The Last Chancers
"You are all here because you are scum, but you're the God-Emperor's scum. You have skills that are useful to Him and whether you wish it or no, they will be made use of."
- – Colonel Schaeffer, commander of the 13th Penal Legion
Amongst the Imperial Guard, unique regiments consisting of convicted criminals of all stripes and shades who have avoided execution or a grim future in the form of a servitor, only to be pressed into penal legions alongside thousands of others for a chance to absolve themselves of their crimes though suicidal acts beyond those of normal guardsmen - either though serving their sentence or being cleared of charges posthumously. A penal legion almost guarantees the innocence of an individual if they refrain from fleeing, but a messy, gribbly end awaits those who flee from battle or try to escape confines during transit, normally administered by an explosive collar or a bolt pistol.
Yet again, amongst the many thousands of penal legions reside the 13th Penal Legion - while not being the thirteenth legion to be formed, they are however legendary amongst the Guard for being a virtual death sentence to such a degree that even other penal legions see those residing in the 13th as lost causes. This dread reputation is a direct result of Colonel Schaeffer being the most heinous and downright evil imperial guard officer to ever exist. There is a high chance men under his command will die before reaching the front lines, normally a direct result of forced marching along the quickest path en route to the frontline, normally footslogging though "hazardous" environments, and on the off-chance they survive that, the missions they're employed on are so suicidal that it would be easier for them to just ask the Commissar to get it over with already (though if they did the Commissar would just have them flogged). It should be noted that the Colonel is right there with them through it all and keeps going like a man of iron, and will happily carry out the Commissar's typical punishment on his men if needed.
The Last Chancers literature series by Gav Thorpe follows legionary Lieutenant Kage as he shoots, stabs, strangles and shouts his way through a brutal sentence serving under Colonel Schaeffer in the Last Chancers as he leads the thirteenth penal legion on suicidal missions across the galaxy. As you might have been able to guess, the books are absolutely The Dirty Dozen made more Grimdark and 40K (though Mr. Thorpe's preface to the Last Chancers omnibus has him say the main inspiration for the first novel was a Sven Hassel book). Consisting of three major novels, 13th Legion, Kill Team, and Annihilation Squad, along with a scattering of short stories, Deliverance and Liberty.
Probably one of the more interesting Imperial Guard legions in that they actively question authority and say a lot of heretical things without worrying about Commissars or Commanding Officers executing them every five seconds (inasmuch as they're basically dead men walking anyway). Surprisingly, escape attempts are all but unheard of - partly because Schaeffer is a firm believer in delivering the Emperor's Redemption himself if necessary (making him the regiment's Commissar equivalent), but also because Schaeffer cherrypicks the people that get into his regiment and genuinely offers them a pardon if they succeed or die trying. They are the Last Chancers, they are lucky to be alive and by the Emperor they are going to defy the odds and do their utmost best to remain alive no matter what!
The Last Chancers were created for a special assignment 2.5 years in the making. The Inquisition needed to clean up a big mess they made in a highly populated Imperial city. Instead of declaring Exterminatus and calling it a day, they thought they could use an elite special forces team to break inside the heavily defended city. Instead they got a bunch of cutthroats and killers that would gladly kill their own mothers for a pardon for their crimes. Turns out that when you want to kill several billion people, these are the ideal candidates. Of particular note amongst the rabble, Kage was incarcerated upon a gulag (the 40k equivalent of one anyway) for stabbing a superior officer during a dispute over a woman during garrison duty on a backwater planet (the name of which nobody remembers). Being a opportunistic git, Kage took a opportunity to break free though hijacking a shuttle during supply drop off. Surprisingly, he made it as far as the gangplank, then he ran into Colonel Schaeffer, leading to three bloody years in the Last Chancers.
The following (incomplete) list of Last Chancers members should give you an idea of the unique skillsets that keep them from being used as simple meat-shields.
Notable all these guys have models and are still being sold (in metal mind you) by Gameworkshop in the "Colonel Schaeffers Last Chancers" squad not anymore.
- Colonel Schaeffer: The regiment's commanding officer considers himself merciful for granting a "Last Chance" for his men to redeem themselves. It says a lot that most of the people he extends this offer to usually decide that they would prefer summary execution. An excellent judge of character, he has a knack for picking out only the most skilled and talented scum from across the Imperial Guard's prisons. He's been known to work closely with the Inquisition as well.
- Lieutenant Kage: The most senior officer other than Schaeffer and the de facto field commander, who somehow got himself stuck in the legion TWICE after a second offense committed after his first pardon, and isn't a lot less sociopathic than an Chaos Space Marine. A latent psyker, he was KIA in his successful attempt to assassinate Herman von Strab, dragging the traitorous former Overlord of Armageddon into a lava pit that he was falling into after being possessed by a daemon. He got better in Armageddon Saint though. Ultimately proved himself to be truly deserving of the name Guardsman and all the giant balls and the legacy of Ollanius Pius that comes with it. He was also the only member in the team to not have an official model.
- 'Hero' Greene: A former Imperial Guard officer who graduated at the top of his class, but was convicted of insubordination after refusing a direct order to lead his men in a pointless suicide attack. He was chosen for his stubbornness and ability to fight even after suffering life-threatening wounds.
- 'Fingers' Vagin: A shameless kleptomaniac, forger, and black marketer that was chosen for his ability to acquire specialty goods for the Last Chancers.
- 'Rocket Girl' Mikhaels: A former Master-At-Arms and heavy weapons specialist convicted for the murder of a Master Sergeant. As her nickname suggests, she's a natural with a missile launcher.
- 'Shiv': Arrested and held in custody for the serial murder of 20 Imperial citizens in 5 years. Needless to say, Schaeffer knew he would be useful as a stealthy assassin.
- 'Grease Monkey': An expert driver and mechanic found guilty of stealing a grav-vehicle belonging to a Craftworld Iyanden ambassador(How do you even do that? Latent-ish psyker, maybe?) with a preternatural gift for driving and repairing just about any vehicle there is. Guess Iyanden makes sense, as they're in so much shit they'd be willing to use diplomacy with literally anyone who isn't Chaos or Tyranids.
- 'Demolition Man': Convicted of breaking into his regiment commander's private drink cabinet and chosen for his ability to bypass locks and security systems.
- 'Animal': A homicidal maniac with a criminal record 93 pages long, he's normally kept in chains and a gag when not in combat. When he is in combat, he's less of a soldier and more of something to point in the general direction of an enemy and unleash (preferably from a safe distance and a tranquilizer dart gun). Basically a cheap version of Eversor assassin without any funding for training, as well as WRYYYYYYYY
- 'Warrior Woman': A peerless hunter and tracker hailing from the planet Xenan 7, she was conscripted into the Last Chancers after her involvement with the heretical Cult of Artemis was exposed.
- 'Scope': Convicted for going AWOL (and suspected to be involved in the assassination of a Chief Arbitrator that occurred at exactly the same time he went AWOL) and chosen for his skill as a marksman. Also the owner of a rare Needle Sniper Rifle, which fires shards of crystallized toxins that can kill in seconds.
- 'Ox': A veritable brute of a man that can carry a heavy bolter unaided. Such strength isn't too surprising given that he was convicted of murdering three officers with his bare hands in a fit of drunken rage. Best buds with 'Brains'.
- 'Brains': The machine specialist/nerd of the regiment, who was taken in after he hacked into his regiment's account system and gave himself a considerable pay raise (wait, since when were Guardsmen paid?). Best buds with 'Ox'.